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Olivier Theyskens’ comeback: “I work from a form of beauty”

By Caitlyn Terra


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One year ago, Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens made his comeback with his eponymous label. After the brand was off the radar for fifteen years, the designer brought it back to life and all eyes were fixed on him. Twelve months after his label’s revival. FashionMuseum Antwerp presented an overview of Theyskens work in the exhibition ‘Olivier Theyskens - She Walks in Beauty’. FashionUnited took a moment to speak to the Belgian designer and learn more about the past year, the exhibition and his view on design and the future. “It has been an excellent year,” says the designer.

“I have been wanting to do this project for such a long time,” explains Theyskens in regard to his label's revival.“I was always delaying it because I was involved in other projects and thought: I will do it later.” Theyskens previously served as creative director at fashion houses Rochas and Nina Ricci and at the contemporary label Theory. “After a while, I realized that I should see this as a priority, otherwise I was never going to do it.” Three years ago Theyskens put his own label on the top of the priority list and worked in secret for two years on the collection. Meanwhile, Theyskens already presented his third collection since his return. “I have the opportunity to have second look at what I am doing, whom I am working with and how I work at a totally new scale.”

Olivier Theyskens: “I want to be able to transform and grow”

At the time of his first collection launch, last year September, the designer pointed out he did not want to get ‘too big too fast’. The question arises whether someone with his name and his experience is able to do so. Theyskens, however, is convinced this is possible: “It is a smart strategy for me. I want to be able to transform and grow, step by step. We are still in the early stage and these collections are fundamental for the brand.”

After working for several other fashion houses, Theyskens thinks working for his own brand is not a big change. “It is very similar to what I used to do at the other fashion houses. I still present collections, I draw, I am involved in the design process.” He did learn a lot at Rochas, Nina Ricci, and Theory; knowledge that he still applies to his own label today. He learned how important teamwork is, but also how to work efficiently when deadlines are approaching. “Moreover, it is important that everybody feels inspired and enthusiastic to accompany you in this journey.”

It is clear a lot has changed for Theyskens in the previous years. Not only did he work at different places, his own designs have also evolved. “It is not comparable,” says the designer about his work. “All my experiences have impacted my designs. I have learned things, started to appreciate different values and things I like when it comes to design.” During his time at Rochas and Nina Ricci, he used different historical references in his collections. Whatever has changed in his preferences and inspiration, Theyskens is certain he always continues to do the best he can.

Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens: “I work from a form of beauty”

In the new exhibition ‘Olivier Theyskens - She Walks in Beauty’, his creative evolution is clearly visible. The designer is happy to see all his collections together and is enthusiastic that others get the chance to see a new side of his work. However, picking a favorite creation is difficult for Theyskens. “They are like my babies! All these collections are made in another stage of my life. I am attached to all of them.” After a moment of reflection, he eventually mentions his first collection has to be his favorite. “This collection was the start for me, it made everything possible. This collection helped me to get to where I am now.”

Theyskens is known for his romantic, gothic-looking designs. Characteristics for his collections are bustiers, neat pants, exposed hook and eye closures and swallowtail dresses. The Belgian himself cannot label his style but does know clearly why he designs. “I work from a form of beauty. Nothing is more beautiful and pure than a woman who looks good. Besides this a collection should be relevant: logical and beautiful.” Therefore it is not a surprise the exhibition at the FashionMuseum of Antwerp is called ‘She Walks in Beauty”.

Yet, Theyskens was surprised the museum wanted to dedicate an exhibition just to him. “At first I thought they wanted me to curate another overview exhibition. It took a view months for me to realize this was about me,” says Theyskens, who is known to be modest. Together with his own team and a team from the MoMu he worked on the exhibition. “It can be scary to focus on my own career, but MoMu wanted to show a designer with a rich history who was now making the next step. There is no better motivation than this.”

Olivier Theyskens: “I keep focussing on how I want to present women”

Theyskens looks at the future with an open mind: “I know from experience that you never know what is going to happen. Things can change quickly.” That is why the Belgian designer thinks it is very important to live in the here and now. “I like to set goals and to hold on to these ideas, but it is also important to stay flexible,” according to Theyskens. “I keep designing and focussing on how I want to present women. Presenting a beautiful and relevant woman, there is nothing better than that.”

Olivier Theyskens is born in Brussels, 1977. In 1995 he started his education at École National Supérieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre. After three years he drops out because he believes he can learn more from practical experiences rather than going to school. In 1997 he gets famous instantly when Madonna wears one of his designs to the Oscars.

This article is published before, at FashionUnited.nl and FashionUnited.be, written by our editor from The Netherlands. Translation and adjustments by Blanca Heise.

ModeMuseum Antwerp